Lucky us: The pull of the Latin music industry means we can count among us monsters of song like Cuban crooner Francisco "Pancho" Cespedes, who moved from Mexico to Miami Beach this year. Fortunate were clubgoers who caught his show at Club Tropigala or his impromptu guest appearances at Radical, Starfish, and Café Nostalgia. No one knows heartache like Pancho, a master of the dramatic musical style filin', whose voice breaks like a powerful wave on the rocky shores of passion. Donde Está La Vida, this year's followup to 1998's Vida Loca, is pure pathos, late-night suffering, and impeccably arranged jazz.
Over the past year, makeshift venues from Señor Frog's to Bennigan's have been pushing the tables against the walls and squeezing in stages to feed our city's hunger for live music. Home to the ever-shifting roster of musicians who make up Grupo Nostalgia, the swanky nightclub Café Nostalgia has done its own double duty by clearing a space for guest artists in the hours before the house band starts to swing. The club's luxurious booths proved the perfect vantage point from which to view the Jerry-Lewis-meets-Beny-Moré antics of trovador David Torrens, while generous sightlines and dappled lights revealed pan-Latin rockers Bacilos even as dancers packed the floor. The holiday-in-Havana décor is a fabulous backdrop not only for the son-to-timba traditions of Cuban dance music but also for forward sounds such as Aterciopelados' future-lounge.
Okay, so it's not a rap group. It's a label. It's a lifestyle. It's the Dirty South, straight outta Liberty City. Founded in 1994 by Ted Lucas and home to Miami's number one nann, Trick Daddy, Slip 'N Slide represents the 305 to thugs worldwide. A graduate of Uncle Luke's luv-dem-'hos hip-hop school, Trick broke out on his own in 1997 with a heavy dose of urban reality on his autobiographical Based on a True Story. When www.thug.com shot up the charts in 1998, Trick took da baddest bitch, Trina, along for the ride. Two thousand one was the year Slip 'N Slide took it to da house, though. Trick proved once again that Thugs Are Us, while Slip 'N Slide associates Iconz got everybody crunked up. The whole crew broke out on the beach in Slip 'N Slide's documentary Dirty South. If y'all ain't feelin' Slip 'N Slide, shut up!
You could literally see the changing of the cultural guard as the Orishas whipped through their set of rumba-steeped rap at Starfish this past November. In front of the stage was a sweaty mass of Cuban-American teens and twentysomethings, singing along with every verse. Back at the bar was a cluster of older Cuban exiles, curious to hear the latest spin on Afro-Cuban music and perhaps a bit bemused to catch some Buena Vista-styled samples cropping up between the Orishas' percussive beats. It's certainly true that the group isn't the cream of Havana's burgeoning hip-hop scene. (In fact since they now reside in Paris as Cuban expats, their current material seems to owe as much to the smooth strains of French rap as to any of their native island's musical currents.) And some of its choreographed dance moves invoked a bit too much of 'N Sync's slick vibe for comfort. But once the Orishas got over their microphone troubles, they definitely proved they could not only bring the noise but introduce Miami to yet another revolution bubbling over across the Florida Straits.
Miami's own heavy-metal warrior by way of Sweden and Los Angeles, Yngwie Malmsteen has settled on a novel solution to the ol' "Hope I Die Before I Get Old" quandary that plagues so many aging rock singers. Sure he still pens the same Dungeons and Dragons-esque tales of teen angst, marauding goblins, and demonic armies as he did nearly two decades ago. He just lets someone else sing them. And should that hired vocalist begin to lose his heavy-metal mettle, or (shudder) begin to mellow, Malmsteen simply fires his leather-jacketed ass and hires a new microphone slinger. It's a modus operandi that leaves him free to concentrate on his guitar playing -- the main reason, after all, his fans keep coming back, album after album. War to End All Wars certainly doesn't disappoint on that count. It's chock full of Malmsteen's squealing solo work and gloriously over-the-top allusions to his classical composer heroes. Bonus feature: The CD booklet reprints the lyrics so you can sing along. All together now: "In there dwells the wizard/His breath like a blizzard/Ancient incantations/Evil revelations."
Last year Liliana Rodriguez's show (7:00 to 10:00 p.m. Wednesday) took honors for Best Latin Radio Program. This year the show breaks out of the barrio to take the prize for Best Rock Radio Program, period. This is a plea to all the powerful commercial stations across the dial: We want our Latin alternative!
It's hard enough to be a working jazzman in South Florida, let alone one who treads the avant-garde side of the tracks. So rather than worry about pleasing club owners searching for nothing more than background noise, saxophonist Keshavan Maslak (a.k.a. Kenny Millions, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the local success-crazed vibe) devotes most of his live appearances to European music festivals. And rather than deal with record-company pressures, Maslak has recently taken to recording in his own living room, setting up the microphones himself and issuing the results on his own Hum Ha label. On his latest outing, he's invited noted pianist Burton Greene -- a fellow exiled veteran of the downtown NYC jazz scene -- for a series of forceful duets titled simply Detroit Meets Chicago, a reference to each performer's hometown and musical roots. Both men skip back and forth between traditional riffs and free jazz, with Maslak effortlessly shifting from a tender melodic line to some truly wigged-out honking. Likewise Greene is a master at both gentle ivory tickling and a jarring attack that could give even Cecil Taylor shivers. Yet as heady as the music gets, Maslak never lets listeners forget the point of it all. As he growls out loud in one song: "C'mon and have some serious fun/Don't worry about who's dead and gone!"

Have amplifier, will travel. Cuban singer-songwriter Poveda never misses an opportunity to perform, whether at scheduled shows in the funky dives of Little Havana or on a street corner near you. Not averse to playing with a band (as the rambling roster of his sometime ensemble Los Bloomers de Havana attests), he is in his element alone, accompanying his gravel-and-nicotine voice with an acoustic guitar, the click of his tongue, and the wind instrument that is his sighs.
For two young men who appear smiling goofily in virtually every picture snapped over the past year by their increasing number of international media admirers, Phoenecia's Romulo del Castillo and Josh Kay sure produce some creepy music. Indeed Brownout may be their darkest work yet, slowing down the frenetic pace of earlier singles such as "Odd Job" (drastically reworked herein) and allowing all manner of disturbing elements to slink into the mix. Small pieces of glass and an unsprung grandfather clock crunch underneath hypnotically churning rhythms, ghostly echoes, and ominous tones. Dance-floor fodder this ain't. Yet Brownout is oddly compelling, like a horror movie from which you can't turn away -- perfect for pulling on a pair of headphones, dimming the lights, and losing yourself. Just check underneath the bed first.
Okay, so the guy headlined New Times Vibe 2001, our multifaceted music blowout that nobody attended. But that doesn't mean we were deaf to other rock singers in town. Nil Lara just happened to be the frontman who didn't make our ears bleed. Lara's soulful voice and pleasant inflections are more Peter Gabriel than Beny Moré. Still the Cuban-American songwriter reaches into his guajiro roots to create a unique repertoire of meaningful and engaging tunes. Sporting his trademark flannels and bare feet, shiny-domed Lara cuts a playful and pensive presence while strumming his cuatro onstage. He returned to South Florida last year from a grueling 22-month tour that took him across the United States and to Japan and Europe. Since coming back he's been recuperating, writing new songs, and spending time in the studio. The legions of fans he began cultivating while a student at the University of Miami can bet they'll see more of Lara's high-spirited shows. And we can rest easy, knowing we won't have to deal with bloodstained earplugs.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®